Slaughter of livestock: welfare regulations

Humane killing of farm animals including Halal and Jewish slaughter, other reasons for slaughter and how to apply for a slaughterman's licence.


The EU Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing is now in force. Existing domestic legislation, The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) (WASK) Regulations 1995 will remain in force in England alongside EU Regulation 1099/2009 until the new domestic legislation, The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) (WATOK) is brought into force later in 2013.

Although Regulation 1099/2009 applies automatically in all Member States including the UK from 1 January 2013, there will be no immediate change to the existing legal framework in England. For further information on how Regulation 1099/2009 affects slaughter or killing operations from 1 January 2013 see the Information Note:

The welfare of animals at the time of slaughter or killing is covered by EU Directive 93/119 and UK regulations. These rules state that it is an offence to cause or permit an animal to suffer avoidable excitement, pain or suffering. Animals must be handled, stunned and killed using specific methods by licensed slaughtermen.

This guide covers the welfare of farm animals at slaughter or killing. It explains the legal requirements that protect animals at slaughter or killing and how these rules are enforced.

It also explains how to apply for a provisional or registered slaughterman’s licence - and outlines the training, skills and knowledge you will need.

There are legal requirements that you must follow regarding the protection of animals at the time of their killing or slaughter. This includes EU Regulation 1099/2009 - which replaced Directive 93/119/EC and came effect on 1 January 2013.

Directive 93/119/EC has been implemented in Great Britain by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) (WASK) Regulations 1995 - as amended in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2012. The regulations:

  • make it an offence to cause - or permit - avoidable pain, excitement or suffering to any animal
  • state how animals must be handled, stunned, slaughtered or killed
  • state that the people involved in moving, lairaging, restraining, stunning, slaughtering or killing any animal must have the knowledge and skill to perform those tasks humanely and efficiently
  • state that only permitted methods can be used to stun and kill animals, and the person involved must have a registered licence

Enforcement of animal welfare at slaughter

All approved Food Business Operators (FBOs) are supervised by Official Veterinarians (OVs) of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). They ensure that all FBOs comply with rules for:

  • meat hygiene
  • animal welfare
  • statutory regulations

The OVs will take immediate action to correct any problems they find. This action could include written or verbal advice, warnings and - if necessary - recommendations for prosecution.

If your animals are slaughtered or killed on your farm or at a knacker’s yard, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) monitors their welfare. While there is not the same level of supervision as at approved premises, veterinary officers will monitor slaughtering during visits to farms. They also regularly visit knackers’ yards and hatcheries, and go to seasonal poultry slaughter premises in the run-up to Christmas.

AHVLA follows up on reports and claims of poor welfare practices. If necessary, they will also investigate and prosecute those who don’t follow welfare regulations.

On-farm killing or slaughtering

If you plan to slaughter an animal or bird on your farm, you will need a licence - unless the animal is being killed:

  • for disease control by a competent authority
  • by a free bullet in the field by a person who holds a firearms certificate
  • because it is suffering and is being killed for emergency reasons relating to the welfare of the animal, and where the animal needs to be killed/slaughtered immediately
  • for an owner’s private consumption
  • by a qualified veterinary surgeon

Any killing or slaughter must be carried out without causing the animals any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering. Anyone carrying out killing or slaughter - by means other than a free bullet - must ensure that the animal is restrained appropriately and is stunned before slaughter.

Also note that the Food Hygiene Regulations may apply to on-farm killing. You can get advice on these regulations from the FSA.

Regulations for animal welfare during on-farm slaughter

Killing or slaughtering on the farm must adhere to the WASK Regulations 1995, as amended. These rules implement European Directive 93/119/EC into UK law. Further amendments to the WASK Regulations 1995 came into force on 6 April 2012 through the WASK Amendment (England) Regulations 2012.

Schedule 1 of WASK sets out the requirements for licences. Schedule 4 sets out the requirements for restraining animals and parts I and II of Schedule 5 deal with stunning. Schedule 5 also lists the permitted methods of stunning and any specific requirements for those methods. An animal must be killed in accordance with the permitted methods of killing listed in Part III of Schedule 5 of WASK.

If you are considering slaughtering a bird or animal on your farm, it’s recommended that you contact your veterinary surgeon for advice before the killing takes place. They can advise you on the most appropriate ways to ensure your animal’s welfare before and during the process, in accordance with the regulations.

Killing birds and poultry

Birds and poultry may be killed on-farm using gas. The WASK Amendment (England) Regulations 2012 removed the limitations on the use of gas to cull birds on-farm. The regulations permit the use of gas to kill any type of bird on-farm. In addition, the use of biphasic CO2 is permitted for the killing and slaughter of poultry in a slaughterhouse.

A competent and licensed slaughterman must carry out any gas killing of your birds or poultry. If you are using a bird shed for the gas chamber, this must also be directly supervised by your veterinary surgeon. You must carry out the killing in accordance with the requirements of Schedule 7A of WASK.

Download Defra’s guidance on the welfare of poultry at slaughter or killing from the Agricultural Document Library (ADLib) website (PDF, 494KB).

Religious slaughter of farmed animals

There are long-standing provisions in UK law which - subject to specific requirements - allow the slaughter of animals without stunning to meet Jewish and Muslim religious requirements.

Religious slaughter must be carried out only in approved red meat slaughterhouses or, in the case of poultry, in approved or other officially regulated slaughterhouses. Find information on religious slaughter for the Muslim community on the Defra website.

Halal slaughter

Where an animal is slaughtered without prior stunning for consumption by Muslims, the slaughter must be carried out by a Muslim holding a slaughterman’s licence. It must also take place in a licensed abattoir, in a licensed poultry slaughterhouse under official veterinary supervision, or in other officially regulated poultry slaughterhouses.

Slaughter without prior stunning is not allowed in any other place, even for personal consumption. Only cattle, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, hens, guinea fowl, ducks, geese and quail may be slaughtered in accordance with the rules of Islam.


The law now permits Qurbani/Udhia to be made:

  • by a licensed Muslim slaughterman
  • by the Islamic method, and
  • in a licensed slaughterhouse which is under official veterinary supervision.

Qurbani / Udhia is not permitted in fields, farm buildings, domestic or other premises.

Muslims who wish to make Qurbani / Udhia are encouraged to make arrangements with suppliers in good time before Eid-ul-Adha.

This guidance is issued by Defra in consultation with the Joint Working Group of Departments and Muslim Organisations.

Shechita Jewish slaughter

Shechita is the Jewish method of slaughtering animals and poultry for food. It is the only method of producing kosher meat and poultry allowed by Jewish law. Under this law, any stunning is forbidden. The animal must be healthy and killed with respect. It is forbidden to slaughter an animal in front of other animals or to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day.

Shechita is normally performed while the animal is lying on its back, but this is not allowed in the UK. Where an animal is slaughtered without prior stunning for consumption by a Jew, the slaughter must take place in a licensed abattoir, licensed poultry slaughterhouse under official veterinary supervision, or in another officially regulated poultry slaughterhouse. Slaughter without prior stunning is not allowed in any other place.

A shochet performs the shechita. Shochetim are highly trained over a number of years in animal anatomy, pathology and welfare. They are licensed every 12 months by the Rabbinical Commission for the Licensing of Shochetim and must also be licensed by the local authority where they practise.

Licensing and training of slaughtermen

All slaughtermen must comply with the legal requirements of the WASK as amended.

The regulations require anyone who kills or slaughters animals or birds to hold a provisional or registered licence for the following procedures:

  • restraining an animal to stun, slaughter or kill it
  • assessment of effective stunning or killing
  • stunning, slaughtering or killing animals
  • shackling or hoisting stunned animals
  • bleeding animals not yet dead
  • pithing stunned animals

A licence is not required for the following operations:

  • emergency slaughter or killing - when an animal needs to be killed immediately
  • slaughter or killing by the owner of an animal for his private consumption - when slaughter doesn’t take place in a slaughterhouse or knacker’s yard
  • slaughter or killing for a non-commercial purpose - ‘commercial’ as defined in the Regulations
  • killing by using a free bullet in the field
  • neck dislocation or decapitation of poultry on agricultural premises where the birds were reared
  • using automatic equipment - where the operator does not carry out any task which would otherwise require a licence
  • shackling birds before stunning
  • slaughter or killing under the direction of a veterinary surgeon

In addition, a licence is not required to kill:

  • animals for the purposes of disease control
  • farmed fox or mink
  • surplus chicks or embryos in hatchery waste

However, these operations must be carried out in accordance with the specific requirements of the Regulations.

Procedures for licensing slaughtermen

If you wish to become a slaughterman, you must first obtain a provisional licence - the minimum age for this licence is 18 years old. While competence, knowledge and skill to do the work are important, you must also be a ‘fit and proper’ individual.

The provisional licence is valid for up to three months and can be obtained free of charge. It will state the species, equipment types and operations that you are licensed for. During this time, you must work in the presence - and under the direction - of a registered licence holder who works with the same species, equipment and operations. If a registered licence holder is not available, then you must work under the direction of a veterinary surgeon.

There are no exams to sit to become a licensed slaughterman, but you will be assessed under normal working conditions after undergoing on-the-job training. This assessment is normally carried out by OVs at the slaughterhouse where you work.

If you work at other premises, you’ll need to apply to your local AHVLA and they will arrange for you to be assessed by one of their Veterinary Officers (VOs).

When you successfully pass your assessment, you will receive a Certificate of Competence (CoC) for the species, equipment and operations you studied for.

Skills and knowledge that licence applicants need

You will need to have up-to-date knowledge of the WASK regulations and any relevant animal welfare codes. You also need to show that you:

  • adequately understand appropriate restraint methods for the species you are handling
  • have the knowledge and skill to restrain an animal without causing undue pain, suffering or excitement
  • know how to restrain an animal for slaughter by religious methods - if you belong to the Jewish or Muslim faith and are training to become a slaughterman
  • know how to properly handle poultry before stunning or killing
  • know what to do in an emergency
  • know how to use equipment for mechanical or electrical stunning, or killing
  • are aware of the permitted methods of stunning animals
  • can recognise an effective stun and signs of recovery from a stun
  • can effectively use a captive bolt pistol - if you’re licensed for this instrument
  • can effectively perform concussion stuns - if you’re licensed for this method
  • can effectively carry out electronarcosis and electrocution - if you’re licensed for these methods
  • can effectively carry out bleeding and pithing - if you’re licensed for these methods
  • can effectively perform killing by gas exposure - if you’re licensed for this method

Registered licence

Your registered licence is permanent and valid throughout Great Britain. It covers the species, equipment and operations that are listed on your CoC. If you wish to add new species, operations or equipment, then you need to apply for a provisional licence for those areas.

A registered licence costs £26. If you need to register changes to it - or have it replaced - there is a £7 fee.

How to apply

If you wish to apply for a provisional licence or CoC, you must complete Form WAS 1. If you work in a licensed slaughterhouse, give it to the OV. Alternatively, you will need to send it to your local AHVLA.

Find an application for a provisional licence to kill or slaughter animals on the Defra website.

You should include a cheque for £40 for an OV assessment at a licensed slaughterhouse and £117.80 per hour if you need a visit from an AHVLA VO. This fee is payable in advance and is not refundable.

To apply for a registered licence, you should complete Form WAS 4.

You must send your certificate or Rabbinical Licence (if applicable), a registration fee and two passport-style photographs with your name written on the back of each photo to the FSA Agency. You will then need to send your application documents in an envelope marked ‘Registered licence’ to the following address:

The Food Standards Agency
Foss House
1 - 2 Peasholme Green

Support and advice

Several organisations offer support and advice to farmers about the welfare of animals at slaughter.

Defra aims to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European Commission support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with farmers, regulate imports and exports of crops and implement pest and disease controls. For more information on this you can call the Defra Helpline on Tel 08459 33 55 77.

The AHLVA is a Defra agency responsible for ensuring that farm animals in the UK are healthy and well cared for. Working together with local authorities, AHVLA officers - who are based in regional AHVLAs - carry out farm inspections to enforce farmed animal welfare law.

The FSA is the central competent authority in the UK responsible for carrying out official controls. These controls require specified inspections of all animals, carcasses and offal through risk-based audits to verify that approved fresh meat premises comply with EU Food Hygiene Regulations.

The FSA also undertakes official controls on behalf of Defra on animal health and welfare to ensure compliance with legislative requirements. It carries out these controls in slaughterhouses, cutting plants, farmed and wild game facilities, and co-located minced meat and meat products premises. The FSA has a statutory duty to provide these services on demand, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

You will come into contact with local authorities over a number of animal welfare, farming, land use, food standards and environmental regulations. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Local authority and AHVLA animal welfare enforcement powers include:

  • emergency powers in relation to animals in distress
  • powers of entry and inspection, including the power to seize documents
  • prosecution powers
  • the authority to serve improvement notices

It is an offence to obstruct an inspector in the course of their duty.

In England, the Farm Advisory System advises farmers about cross compliance. For further information, call the Cross Compliance Helpline on Tel 0845 345 1302. Alternatively, find information on cross compliance requirements on the Cross Compliance website.

Find information about animal welfare on the Cross Compliance website.

Natural England is another Defra agency that works to ensure sustainable use and management of the natural environment. It hosts events around the country, including cross compliance farm walks and farming drop-in clinics.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for licences and schemes for farmers, as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about the SPS and how it can help your farming business, you can call the RPA Helpline on Tel 0845 603 7777.

You can also read the guide on the SPS.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities.

You can read about the work of the NFU on the NFU website.


The Welfare of animals at slaughter is governed by Directive 93/119/EC on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter and killing. Directive 93/119/EC has been implemented in Great Britain by the welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, as amended, (WASK) and in Northern Ireland by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996, as amended.

Council Regulation 1099/2009 on the Protection of Animals at the Time of Killing will replace the Directive from 1 January 2013. Consultation on proposals to implement Regulation 1099/2009 in England commenced on 13 September and ran for 6 weeks until 24 October. Following consultation new domestic regulations, The Welfare of Animals at the time of Killing (England) Regulations 2012 (WATOK) will be laid before Parliament to implement and enforce Regulation 1099/2009 and to repeal and replace the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (insofar as they apply to England), save for certain transitional provisions. The new domestic regulations will apply in England only. Separate implementing regulations will be made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Further information

Guidance on the welfare of poultry at slaughter

Guidance on the licensing of slaughtermen

Animal welfare on the Cross Compliance website

Farming advice on the NFU website

RPA Helpline

0845 603 7777

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77